I recently attended the Vitae Researcher Development International Conference in Manchester. This is a gathering of folks who are involved in the skills development of postgraduate research students and research staff where updates on policy and strategic initiatives are discussed. It also serves as a way for all of us skills development types to share practice, find out what’s going on etc.
I was leading a workshop at the conference entitled “Never the Twain Shall Meet: Bringing Research Leaders and Early Career Researchers Together to Discuss Career Development” together with an independent facilitator, Kate Tapper from Bud Development. What we set out to do was to share the experience we had of organising an event for the UWE Researchers’ Forum designed to bring research staff and their managers (Principal Investigators or PIs for short) together to have some discussions about the best way to support the career development of research staff. The main way we did this was to use metaphors to critically examine the issues around career development of researchers yet remaing objective and impersonal.
We thought this worthy of sharing because of the difference in perspectives between the research staff and their PIs was really interesting. The Prezi I used in the workshop is shown below.
Never the Twain Shall Meet on Prezi
We had been planning to run this development event for sometime before we did because research staff were telling us that they felt that their PIs needed to be more involved in assisting researchers to make career development choices. I was a bit nervous about how it might work because not all PIs share the same views on how high a priority should be placed on skills development (particularly of the “generic” or “transferable” nature) in terms of the perceived success of a researcher. I was also nervous about how likely it was that we could attract a significant number of PIs to a career development event for early career researchers given the other considerable demands on their time. I am not alone in sensing that trepidation as was confirmed at the Vitae Conference.
So here’s what we learned from running this event:-
- We needn’t have worried about the PIs & Researchers not being engaged; they were!
- More communication/constructive dialogue between PIs and researchers would be beneficial
- The perspectives of the PIs were quite different to those of the researchers
- The researchers wanted more information about how things work in research
- The PIs felt the need to shield researchers from the external strategic pressures placed upon them
- Researchers wanted to make the choices that were right for them as individuals, even if that meant “jumping ship” or changing course
The outcomes of this event were:-
- We organised a follow up event where senior managers explained how the funding of research works at UWE and how it fits together with institutional research strategy including how we are approaching the Research Excellence Framework (REF)
- The Researchers’ Forum has attracted more research staff representatives for the planning group
- The Researchers’ Forum is having an increasing influence on research staff issues at UWE
- More PIs and senior managers are engaging with the issues raised by research staff and are willing to contribute their knowledge/experience to research staff events
I’d really appreciate hearing from researchers or researcher development colleagues about their experience of bringing researchers and their managers together to work on improving the career development prospects of research staff.